Savannah Historic District National Landmark

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Webpage: National Historic Landmark

General Description: Savannah’s history dates back to 1732 when General James Oglethorpe, landed at Yamacraw Bluff with 114 settlers to establish the Georgia colony under a charter by King George II.  The purpose of the colony was to create a buffer between the English colonies in the Carolinas and the Spanish colonies in Florida.  The original charter was envisioned as philanthropic endeavor to provide an refuge for English debtors to establish a class of small farmers and mercantile settlers.  For this purpose there were four provisions in the charter: no slaves, no liquor, no lawyers, and no Catholics. He was greeted cordially by Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw Indians who saw the British as protectors from the Spanish who had been causing problems for over a hundred years.  Oglethorpe created a planned community on the bluff overlooking the Savannah river.  The plan called for a series of squares of open land with residential areas to the north and south of the square and commercial and/or religious areas to the east and west.  Initially Savannah consisted of 4 of these blocks, which have since been repeated to a total of 22 city squares, each essentially following the original plan.  These blocks along with the historic buildings still remaining are the 2.5 square mile Historic District of Savannah.  The oldest homes and churches are near the river and many date from the mid-1800s.  During the Antebellum Period prior to the Civil War, Savannah was the largest harbor for cotton and rice production.  The Civil War ended this period when Savannah was captured without a fight by General Sherman.  Unlike other cities destroyed by Sherman during his “march to the Sea”, Savannah was spared and presented to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864.  During Reconstruction, Savannah struggled with the influx of freed slaves until it once again prospered as the major port for cotton export in the 1870s.  When the boll weavil devastated the cotton industry, Savannah turned to the export of paper-pulp ad food processing industries.  By the 1950s the historic district of Savannah had fallen into disrepair and although it was never a slum, it was viewed as a hindrance to progress.  During this period many historic structures were removed for more modern construction.  In 1955 the Historic Savannah Foundation was formed to preserve the historic district.  Today this district is the home to beautiful streets, restored homes and churches, and many museums surrounding the 22 public squares.

Map

Impressions:

1) The most lasting impression of Savannah have to be the public squares with their statues and trees.  The range from squares dominated by large and old live oak to the most modern square that opened in 2010.  This square has an interesting history.  Being close to the river, it was one of the older squares and back in the 1950s the buildings surrounding the square were in serious disrepair.  In support of the growth along the waterfront the city leased the property to construct a parking garage.  This was consider not only an ugly structure, but became a center point for the citizen movement to save the historic district.  After the 50 year lease ran out on the property the parking garage was taken down and moved underground.  A beautiful modern city square was then created over the parking garage that opened in 2010.

OldSquare NewestSquare

2) Taking the trolley is an excellent way to get a first view of the historic district as the stops cover the entire area and the bus drivers act as guides pointing out many of the interesting homes and churches.  However, if we ever visit Savannah again, I would prefer simply walking around the city.  We did this a good bit anyway, walking from one public square to the next.

Riverfront BlueHeron

3) We only had time in one day to visit a single museum, the Massie Heritage Center.  We could easily spend another day or two touring old houses, churches, and other museums.  There is a wealth of opportunities to learn about the history of Savannah.  For anyone interested in history and culture Savannah would have to be a “must-see” destination.  We felt very welcome everywhere we went and in my opinion this was the opposite of the more common “tourist traps” you run into around historic locations.

4) While November may not be as good as the spring in Savannah, the winter weather was very pleasant and the traffic was much less than what would be common during the summer.

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